Sparkle seems bent on being a cliché-filled soap opera


Starring Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks. Rated PG.

Sometimes when you’re watching a movie in the theatre, that voice inside your head cries, “Make it stop!” Which never works unless there’s a coincidental power failure, so cut it out. But Sparkle, which honestly does try to sparkle, makes that voice want to cry out anyway. Well, except during those moments when you’re laughing inappropriately, which only reminds you what a terrible person you are.

Partly you feel bad because Sparkle was Whitney Houston’s final movie. Houston is actually warm and amusing playing a mother whose three daughters form a girl group in 1968 Detroit. She always had an easy, charismatic screen presence, and ditto here, even though the movie puts her in curlers and makes her try to spoil her children’s ambitions. The movie also gives her two songs to sing that let you hear how lower-range husky her voice had become.

Mostly, the movie (a remake of the 1976 original) seems bent on being a cliché-filled soap opera instead of a great story of Motown-era dreams and, um, music. It isn’t helpful that 2007 American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, playing the singer-songwriter heroine, can totally sing but clearly found acting in her first movie a might tricky. Sparks is so blandly unsparkly, it’s like she’d be happy with new shoes instead of stardom.

However, director Salim Akil and his wife, cowriter Mara Brock Akil, really go nuts with lead singer Sister (Carmen Ejogo). Bad girl Sister must fall for a violent comedian (Mike Epps), snort evil substances, and hit bottom so that good girl Sparkle can triumph. Poor Sister. And Ejogo is nicely slinky on songs like Curtis Mayfield’s “Something He Can Feel”.

Yep. All the melodrama wrecks the thing that everybody is supposed to dig: the music. The sisters have moments, and Cee Lo Green gets funky on “I’m a Man”, but Adele (and Amy Winehouse) has probably sparked more Motown madness than Sparkle will.

Watch the trailer for Sparkle.

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